inspired by roger ebert

The death of Roger Ebert struck me harder than I thought.  I am not a huge movie going person, so I didn’t really pay attention to his reviews.  At most, he was a just always in the background, and if I wondered if a movie was good or not, I would see what he thought.  Living in Chicago, it is also kind of difficult to ignore his presence; his name seems to be everywhere.

3120877348_5130705a52 I was struck by his passing, when I was listening to a rebroadcast of one of his last interviews on the radio show Sound Opinions from 2006 (If you love rock history, this episode is a good listen).  While setting up the replaying of the interview, the hosts commented that he had been struggling with cancer for over 10 years.  Over 10 years!

Here’s a guy that kept moving forward, in spite of his situation.  Roger Ebert pushes on to continue meaningful work, even though he hasn’t been able to speak for the last 6 years.  I was humbled by the idea, especially considering the fact that I can so easily get tripped up by the smallest bump in the road.

I also thought about all the times I’ve felt like a victim in a particular situation.  When stacked up next to the courage that Roger Ebert showed, I’m embarrassed.  Roger had a vision for his life and was willing to keep fighting for that idea.  He knew what he wanted to be about, and went after it, regardless of obstacles.

I guarantee that this was not easy for him.  And from the outside looking in, I could totally understand if Roger decided to recede from life and possibly even become bitter for the situation handed to him.  Instead he fought for every ounce of life that was left to him.

There are 2 things here for me, and hopefully you:

Do I have a vision for my life that I am willing to fight for, regardless of the obstacles?

Am I fighting for it?



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gravity and levity

Not just two words that end in vity.

The work that we do as technical artists in the local church, tends to fall in the category of intense.

Not only is there a level of intensity around doing live events, but there is something about doing something different every week, that makes a lot of the process more last minute than any of us would like.  Not surprisingly, this doesn’t make things less intense.  Flying by the seat of your pants is how most of us end up working.

4330199412_379288c805 So not only are live events intense, and not only are different live events each week intense, but doing them in the church, where it is easy to get wrapped up in eternal issues, is where the gravity comes into play.

When you talk about creating a distraction free environment, it is because we don’t want anything to get in the way of people hearing the message of Christ.  If someone isn’t able to hear because production is getting in the way, this weighs heavily on the technical artist in the local church.

I take my role very seriously, as we all should.

OK, so we’ve established that being a technical artist in the local church can be intense and be accompanied by loads of gravity.  So if things are going to be intense regardless, I’d like to enjoy the process along the way.  Levity.

I’m not saying that every meeting or each moment in the booth should be about cracking jokes, but I would say that there isn’t any reason to not have fun as we are serving the church together.

(Side note: I’m not talking about having fun at the expense of other people, which can be easy to do in the cynical world of the production booth.)

I have a theory that most people start serving in production because they like production-y things.  They keep serving because they love the people on their team.

Creating a levity on your team could look many different ways.  It could be a light atmosphere while serving together.  It could be picnics or field trips outside the normal serving time.

For those of you who know me, you know that I love to laugh.  I like to enjoy myself while working on a big project.  This in no way diminishes my commitment to our team’s missions statement:  “to create life changing moments through the fusion of the technical and performing arts.”  I am very serious about this lofty idea.

However, it does mean that I want to have fun while working really hard.  The goal isn’t to have fun.  The goal is to accomplish the mission, and having fun along the way is part of the journey.

Deal with the gravity of what we do by introducing levity into how your team functions.  If I don’t enjoy the process, I will eventually be crushed by the gravity.

What are some ways that you can stop taking yourself so seriously? 

Where can you introduce levity to your team’s experience? 

How can you balance out the gravity of what you do with the opportunity to enjoy yourself along the way?



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don’t wait for next time

I have to admit it, I love the church technical arts community.  The last few days of #gurus13 have been some of my favorite.

After not being very diligent with writing for this blog, I’m sitting down to dive back in, and I only keep thinking about all the amazing interactions I had this week.

Guru_2013_v0.3It feels strange to try to think about something new to write about, when so much has happened that is worth talking about.  It is difficult to narrow down to a single post.

If I had to pick a single take away from Gurus, it would have to be the servant attitudes and actions of so many amazing technical artists.

I know that as a group, we are known for serving the needs of others.  Maybe we aren’t always known for serving with a great attitude, but the fact that someone has an idea and we pull it off, is pretty standard.

The difference this week was all of the presenters, the worship teams, the staff of Willow Creek Church, were falling all over themselves to serve the technical arts community.

For those of you who attended Gurus, and gleaned from the wisdom of this crowd, I hope you have some idea of what a privilege it is to learn from people like Lighting Designer Bob Peterson, or North Coast’s Dennis Choy, or any number of incredible technical arts minds.

I can’t even imagine how different my life would be if I had access to all this knowledge when I was first starting out as a technical artist in the local church.  Once we have all the sessions up on the Gurus website, you definitely need to share it with your teams.  Don’t miss the opportunity to share this amazing content with the people around you.

If you were one of the technical artists that shared your knowledge or served the community in some way, you blow my mind.  To use your free time to pour yourself out for the benefit of people you don’t know and may never see again, is an incredible example to me.  This is taking the idea of servant leadership to a new level.

Not only do we all have something to learn from the knowledge those of you in this group, but the idea of giving back to the technical arts community is something we can all be a little better at.

Being a technical artist in the local church can be lonely.  For those of you who benefitted from your time at Gurus, don’t just go back into your little corner, but expand your corner and include those around you.  Whether from other churches or your own volunteer team.  Reach out.  Give back.  Invest in the lives of other tech people.  Pour yourself out for each other.  Inspire each other to carry on.

God designed us to live in community.  We had the joy to live in the larger technical arts community for the last few days.  There are people in your immediate area just waiting to be gathered and poured into.  Don’t wait for the next big thing to experience investing in others and being invested into.

For some good online community, sign up for  It is a great place to ask questions and share answers and to keep the community going.

Also, don’t forget to keep checking back to for audio and video of sessions to share with the rest of your team.

an unbalanced truce

Remember that one time your monitor mix wasn’t perfect, but you just gave up trying to ask for changes.  “I can deal with this.”?


Or that other time when you got graphics late on Saturday night, even though you keep asking for them on Friday afternoon and you just decided that since you always get them this late that you should just adjust your schedule?

Or that one time…

I’m pretty sure we all have stories  when we have decided that things would be better if I just got used to this.  I’m tired of bringing this up all the time, so I’m just going to stop asking for what I need and adjust.

This is a truce of sorts, but it is unbalanced.  You have decided to give in, without the other person having the option of doing their part.  In my opinion, an unbalanced truce leads to bitterness and resentment.  It is what turns most tech people into passive aggressive, negative people that are difficult to work with.

Here’s the thing.  Deciding to give in and just deal helps in the short term.  I would even say that in the moment, getting the job done is the most important thing.  For those of us in the technical arts, when it is “show time”, there isn’t time to argue about process or how you hurt my feelings or whatever.  It’s time to get it done, and deal with it later.

Unfortunately what happened to me over the years is that I would forget to follow up, or the intensity of my feelings had diminished and it didn’t seem like a big deal any more.  Then it would happen again, and since I hadn’t dealt with it, the resentment built up.  But it’s “show time” again, so let’s just get it done.

Being flexible in the moment is super important, but for me it had become less about being flexible and more about not dealing with the uncomfortable conversations required to make sure we didn’t find ourselves in the same situations each week.

Having an effective working relationship with people requires lots of hard work and trust.  When we settle for an unbalanced truce, our trust levels start to decrease and we can become bitter with our situation.

I need to commit to myself to go after the actual truce; to fight for real trust and an actual effective working relationship with those around me.  And not during “show time”.  I need to invest when the pressure is off.

Where have you given in and settled for something, instead of pushing for what’s best?


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what is the perfect volume? part 3

Over part 1 & part 2 of “what is the perfect volume?”, we have talked about knowing what you are trying to achieve in your services and how volume plays into that, and we have talked about the appropriate volume for each part of your service.  In this post we’ll be talking about being responsible with the volume.

4933225386_a52282b247_bHow many of you have found that guy who has brought their own dB meter to church? You know, to check the volume?  With multiple venues going on at the same time, we’ve had a gentleman who would travel from room to room with his Radio Shack dB meter checking up on the levels all around the building.

I had several conversations with this person, as well as receiving many emails from people accusing us of doing permanent damage to people’s hearing.

I know that it can be really easy to dismiss someone that is so insistent and frankly obnoxious about how wrong you are and how right he is.  And while our knee jerk reaction can be to ignore these people, or at the least wish they would go away, we need to be able to address their concerns.

Given that my last posts have been about knowing what you and your team believe about volume and being volume appropriate in each part of the service, these answers aren’t sufficient for someone who is adamant that you are doing actual damage to the ears of the people in the congregation.

This is where the subjectivity of volume goes away and where science kicks in.   Measuring the volume in real time, and keeping track of the volume over a period of time become critical to objectively understanding the volume in your space.

Real Time Measurement

Measuring the decibels in real time helps in the moment, letting you know if it is getting too loud.  We have several places that this number shows up, and as the one who answers for the volume levels at my church, I have a good sense that many times 97dB is a little too loud for the first song (back to the idea of the appropriate volume for the appropriate time).  Being able to see this number, helps me to react in the moment to what the empirical data is telling me about the volume at the moment.

This also helps when a producer or pastor has a question in a particular moment about how loud is it and it is important to know in that exact moment where things are.  It’s not about my opinion at that point, but something exact and measurable.  Again, something might be too loud from a what’s-appropriate-to-the-moment standpoint, but having a number to measure this opinion against is a huge benefit.

Maybe more important than knowing in an instant, is keeping track over time.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), has set some standards for safety in the workplace, which includes volume levels that have proven over time to be safe for workers.

While OSHA standards don’t apply to the people in your congregation, at the very least they apply to church staff, who are exposed to the same volume over time. As a result, the OSHA standards are a great metric for how loud it can be for how long before permanent damage is done to people’s ears.

As an example, OSHA PNE (Permissible Noise Exposure) specifies a legal limit of 95 dBA (slow) continuously for 4 hours to avoid hearing loss.  Similarly, 80 dB for 32 hours and 100dB for 2 hours.

Now, as I see it, there are 2 challenges with trying to keep track of every service’s volume levels.  The first is how to actually record dB levels over time and the other is the administrative part of having to keep track of it.

To overcome these 2 issues, we have started using TREND, a combination of hardware and software that allows us to set up recording times and then it automatically documents each service on a spreadsheet.  The data is collected in an easy to understand format as well.

Since we really only care about how loud the worship part of the service is, it will take the average of all things that are over the OSHA threshold of 80 dB.  This gives us a more accurate idea of how loud the loud stuff is over time.

I’m going to brag a little bit right here…Chris Gille, the CTO at Eastside Christian Church in Anaheim, CA has done some amazing work at making this program perfect for what churches need.  Using TREND has really helped us to keep track of how loud our services around the campus are running, without having to do all the administrative work necessary.

Having a record of each service is a great resource to point people to.  For those that think your services are too loud and doing damage to people’s ears, this not only helps them see that you take volume seriously, but it also shows that your services have been well within the limits of potential hearing damage for weeks and months.

On a more serious note, having a record of every service is an excellent way to protect your church legally.  There have been some instances where churches were taken to court over noise concerns, and chances are it won’t happen to your church, but wouldn’t you rather have a record of each service to be safe?

Having a way to measure how loud it is, matters.  While much of the volume conversation can be subjective, there is a good bit of it that is objective.  Let’s do the work necessary to take care of the objective part by measuring and keeping track of how loud it really is.

Special note: Thanks to Chris Gille for correcting much of the technical aspects of this blog post.

Another special note: Chris had nothing to do with me plugging TREND. It is just that good!


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